Middle East

Syria condemns Arab League move to suspend monitoring

Anti-government protest said to be taking place in Deraa, Syria - 28 January 2012
Image caption Syrian activists want the international community to help end the violence

The Syrian government has condemned a decision by the Arab League to suspend its monitoring mission inside Syria.

The Arab League said the move was prompted by a dramatic increase in violence in recent days, but Syria accused it of trying to increase pressure for foreign intervention.

The UN Security Council is considering a draft resolution on Syria.

An Arab League delegation will travel to New York this week to address Security Council members.

Syria said it was surprised that the mission had been suspended and that it was a matter of "regret".

"This will have a negative impact and put pressure on [Security Council] deliberations with the aim of calling for foreign intervention and encouraging armed groups to increase violence," a Syrian official told the state channel, Syria TV.

Earlier on Saturday, Secretary General Nabil el-Arabi said: "Given the critical deterioration of the situation in Syria and the continued use of violence... it has been decided to immediately stop the work of the Arab League's mission to Syria."

The suspension coincided with a major new escalation in the fighting. Government forces have moved to retake several eastern suburbs of Damascus seized by defecting soldiers, activists said.

They said at least 12 people had been killed and 30 injured.

Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, says Saturday's fighting was "the most intense near the capital since the uprising began".

"The Syrian regime is trying to finish the uprising militarily now that the case is being taken to the United Nations," he added.

The Arab League says its monitors will remain at their hotels inside Syria for the time being.

Russian objections

The league's mission was established in December to monitor Syria's compliance with a plan to end the bloodshed.

Arab countries voted on Tuesday to extend the mission for another month. Since then conservative estimates say about 200 people have been killed.

As the violence escalated several Arab Gulf countries - including Saudi Arabia - decided to withdraw their observers.

The diplomatic focus now seems to be switching to the UN Security Council, with speculation that it may vote on a draft resolution on Syria in the coming days - although Russia still opposes the move.

The council met earlier this week to discuss the document drafted by Arab states, the UK, France and Germany.

Those countries supported the league's call for President Assad to hand power to a deputy, who would form a national unity government with the opposition within two months.

The draft resolution also calls for further measures if the Syrian government does not comply.

But Russia, an ally of Mr Assad, has said it will not back the text.

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Media captionHuman rights activist Ghias al-Jundi: "The Arab League has prolonged the Syrian crisis"

Mr Arabi is to address the Security Council on Tuesday. He has also been talking directly to Russian officials to try to persuade them to drop their opposition.

Meanwhile, the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) urged Syria's diaspora across the world to stage protests outside Russia's diplomatic missions, the AFP news agency reports.

The UN says more than 5,000 people have been killed since protests against the government of President Bashar al-Assad first erupted last March.

Syrian officials say about 2,000 members of the security forces have been killed in the unrest, which has become increasingly violent as defectors from the army join the opposition.

These claims have not been independently verified.

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